NFL Combine winners and losers: Malik Willis, Jordan Davis impress ahead of 2022 NFL Draft

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The NFL Combine wrapped up in Indianapolis on Sunday, and now all roads lead to Pro Days ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft from April 28-30. 

There were more than a few takeaways from Lucas Oil Stadium, starting with the quarterbacks. Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett might have created some separation from the rest of the pack, but which one will be taken first? That remains an open question. 

Nine receivers ran a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash as part of a freaky class of first-round talent. 

NFL Combine winners 

Winners: Malik Willis

Willis made his case to be the first quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. Willis did not run the 40, but he averaged 5.8 yards per rushing attempt with 27 TDs  in his career with Liberty. 

Willis measured at 6-0, 219 pounds, and his hand size (9 ½) will not be an issue (more on that with another QB in a bit). Most importantly, Willis impressed in the throwing portion with range on his deep passes. 

Winners: Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson 

Ohio State hasn't had a first-round receiver in the NFL Draft in 15 years, but Olave and teammate Wilson likely will change that.

Wilson ran a 4.38 and Olave a 4.39 in the 40, part of a group of nine receivers that ran under 4.4 in the 40. Olave (6-0, 183)  had 35 TD receptions on 175 catches in college, and he measured at 6-foot and 187 pounds. Wilson (6-0, 183)  had 23 TDs on 143 catches in three seasons. 

Both are poised to be drafted in the first half of the first round. 

Fastest WRs at NFL Combine 

Receiver Time
Tyquan Thornton, Baylor 4.28
Velus Jones, Tennessee 4.31
Calvin Austin III, Memphis 4.32
Danny Gray, SMU 4.33
Bo Melton, Rutgers 4.34
Christian Watson, North Dakota State 4.36
Garrett Wilson, Ohio State 4.38
Chris Olave, Ohio State 4.39

Winners: Tyquan Thornton and Christian Watson 

Thornton, a receiver from Baylor, ran the fastest 40 on Thursday with a 4.28. The unofficial time was 4.21, which would have broken the record of 4.22 set by John Ross. 

Ross used that time to become a first-round pick with Cincinnati, and he has struggled with 11 TD catches in five NFL seasons. Thornton had a breakout season with Baylor with 62 catches for 948 yards and 10 TDs, and that 40 time could vault him into at least the second round. 

North Dakota State's Christian Watson (6-4, 208) ran a 4.36 with a 11-4 in the broad jump, which was the best among all receivers. The curiosity factor will be high in Watson, who averaged 20.5 yards per catch for his career with the Bison. 

Winner: Second-day tight ends  

A freaky tight end class flexed (literally) and showed off remarkable athleticism in Indianapolis. Will another Travis Kelce or George Kittle emerge from this class? 

Maryland's Chig Okonkwo (6-2 238) ran a 4.52 in the 40, the best time among tight ends. He added a 35.5 in the vertical jump. Virginia's Jelani Woods (6-7, 259) ran a 4.61 in the 40 and repped 24 on the bench press.

Another tight end to watch is UCLA's Greg Dulcich (6-4, 243), who averaged 17.3 yards per catch for the Bruins last season. He ran a 4.7 in the 40 and hit 10-2 in the broad jump. Dulcich is a polarizing tight end who would be a not-that-surprising reach in the first round. 

San Diego State's Daniel Bellinger (6-5, 253) ran a 4.63 in the 40 and hit 22 on the bench press. SMU's Grant Calcaterra (6-4, 241) ran a 4.62 and repped 20 in the bench press. 

This is a deep tight end class, and those are five second-day value picks who improved their stock in Indianapolis.

Winners: Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III

Sporting News 2021 first-team All-American backfield proved they are ready for the next level with impressive performances in Indianapolis.

Hall (5-11, 217) ran a 4.39 in the 40 and showcased a 40-inch vertical; tops among all running backs. Hall scored 20-plus TDs each of the last two seasons, and his receptions total increased each year at Iowa State.

Walker (5-9, 211) ran a 4.38 in the 40 and a 10-2 in the broad jump. The athleticism is there, and Walker’s hallmark was yards after contacts in the Spartans.

Winner: Ickey Ekwonu and Zion Johnson 

Alabama tackle Evan Neal (6-7, 337) didn’t participate, which allowed Ekwonu (6-4, 310) to make his case to be the No. 1 pick.

The North Carolina State tackle flashed that ridiculous athletic ability with a 4.93 in the 40-yard dash and a 4.73 in the 20-yard shuttle. Ekownu has great feet, and he has the versatility to play guard in the NFL.

Neal still has the size advantage, but this could prompt him to work out on Alabama pro day.

Johnson (6-2, 314) has the measurements, and he repped 32 in the bench and put up a 32 in the vertical jump. That was a winning combination that could make him the first guard off the board. 

Winner: Georgia's defense

Jordan Davis (6-6, 341) wowed with a 4.78 in the 40-yard dash, an incredible feat for a defensive tackle of that size.

Davis’ teammate Devonte Wyatt (6-3, 304) one-upped that by running a 4.77, which might have bumped him into the first round.

Defensive end Travon Walker (6-5, 272) also impressed with a 4.51 in the 40-yard dash and a 4.32 in the 20-yard shuttle. Linebacker Nakobe Dean did not work out but surely will join that group. The Bulldogs had the best defense in the FBS in a national championship season, and the 2022 NFL Draft will be another PSA for the program.

Safety Lewis Cine (6-2, 199) topped it off by running a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash and 133 in the broad jump. 

Winner: Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State

Baylor’s Kalon Barnes (5-11, 183) ran the fastest 40 ever by a defensive back with a 4.23, but Sam Houston State’s Zyon McCollum (6-2, 199) wasn’t far behind. He ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash and showed off his hops with a 39.5 in the vertical jump and 132 in the broad jump. McCollum is the only cornerback who finished in the top five in all three categories.

Winner: Kayvan Thibodeaux-Aidan Hutchinson debate

Thibodeaux (6-4, 254) is another player with a case to be the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. It's an interesting debate with Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, and Thibodeaux popped with a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash and 27 in the bench press. Hutchinson (6-7, 260) ran a 4.74 and had the best time in the 20-yard shuttle among defensive ends at 4.15. 

This conversation will continue into April. 

NFL Combine losers 

Loser: Kenny Pickett hand talk 

The Pitt quarterback passed for 4,319 yards, 42 TDs and seven interceptions in leading the Panthers to the ACC championship last season, but all the talk was about his hand measurement. 

Pickett's right hand measured at 8 ½ inches, and ESPN reports that would be smaller than any other NFL quarterback. Pickett has a double-jointed thumb and did exercises to stretch out his hands, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. All of this, of course, overshadowed Pickett's workout on the field, where he was impressive.  

Loser: Treylon Burks 

Burks (6-2, 225) left Arkansas after a breakout junior season, and he remains in the running to be the first receiver drafted. He ran a 4.55 in the 40 and had a 33-inch vertical jump. Those numbers aren't bad, but it might be enough to give some teams pause given the draft comps. 

Is Burks the next A.J. Brown, who ran a 4.49 with a 36.5-inch vertical? Or the next N'Keal Harry who ran a 4.53 with a 38.5-inch vertical? It's tough to say, but Burks likely will stick in the back half of the first round or slide to the second round as a result. 

Loser: Kyren Williams

Notre Dame’s star running back didn’t have the best day. Williams ran a 4.65 in the 40, which was last among running backs who participated in the combine. He also had a 33-inch vertical and a 9-8 in the board jump.

Williams was every bit as productive as Hall and Walker throughout his career, and he showcased his pass-catching ability with 77 receptions the past two seasons. He probably slipped to the back half of Day 2 (or lower) as of now.

Losers: Kenyon Green and Max Johnson 

This is a tough one because Green is a two-time Sporting News All-American who displayed the ability to play multiple positions at Texas A&M.

Green didn’t have a great workout. He repped 20 on the bench press and ran a 5.24 in the 40-yard dash. Green had been a first-rounder in some mocks, and this is going to make some GMs question that. Still, he was one of the most-consistent blockers in college football the last two years.

Johnson (6-6, 307) had a 5.32 in the 40 and 8.09 in the three-cone drill, numbers that were lower than expected. The Louisiana tackle opted not to do the bench press. 

Losers: DeMarvin Leal and George Karlaftis

Leal  (6-4, 283) had a productive career with the Aggies, but he got lost behind the Georgia defensive tackles. Leal ran a 5.00 in the 40-yard dash with a 27.5-inch vertical. Leal did run a 4.49 in the 20-yard shuttle, but he is a candidate for a first-round slide with these question marks. 

Karlfaftis (6-4, 266) had an outstanding career at Purdue, but his combine performance didn't stand out. He didn't run the 40-yard dash and repped 21 in the bench press. A 4.36 in the 20-yard dash ranked in the middle, too. 

Loser: Mykael Wright 

A 40 time isn't everything, but for cornerbacks it's a big piece. Wright (5-10, 173), who was a star player at Oregon, ran a 4.57 on Sunday. Virginia Tech's Jermaine Waller (6-0, 168) was the only corner in the group with a slower time at 4.68. Wright will have to make that up at Oregon's Pro Day. 

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Bill Bender is a national college football writer for The Sporting News.